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Cowboys' Off-Season: Where Are The Needs On Offense?

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Let's take a look at the offensive depth chart for the Cowboys, to determine what they must address in the various avenues of talent acquisition in the off-season.

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For the last several off-seasons, the honorable Rabblerousr (salute!) has examined the Cowboys depth charts at various points in the off-season in order to determine the best course of action for the team as they prepare for the next year. He has graciously encouraged me to carry on this tradition.

We will begin with the offense that had been so prolific for so long, reaching even greater heights in 2014, before falling hard to the basement in 2015. There are many reasons for this decline that have been discussed in great detail in various mediums, but if the team is to return to glory in 2016, it is important for them to address the offense at some point in the 2016 off-season.

To understand the current state of the offense, lets first remind ourselves of the depth chart of the team all the way back in week one of 2015.

Note: I've included 13 "starters" on this list, as players filling roles like the slot receiver and the change of pace (COP) running back are basically starters at their own position within the offense. These players fill the "11th man" rotation that also might include a 2nd tight end or the full back.

Position Starter Backup Third
QB Tony Romo Brandon Weeden
RB Joe Randle Darren McFadden
FB Tyler Clutts
X-WR Dez Bryant Devin Street
Z-WR Terrance Williams
TE Jason Witten James Hanna Gavin Escobar
LT Tyron Smith
LG Ron Leary La'el Collins
OC Travis Frederick Mackenzie Bernadeau
RG Zack Martin
RT Doug Free Jordan Mills
Slot WR Cole Beasley Lucky Whitehead
COP RB Lance Dunbar

When they broke camp in Oxnard last August and headed back to Dallas, everyone felt great about the offense. No major injuries in the pre-season, the best offensive line in football, a top five quarterback and a top five wide receiver all had fans and media alike excited about the prospects of what the offense could do.

However, as the season passed by and the injuries mounted, that depth chart was decimated. Tony Romo's injury sent the quarterback position into a never ending tailspin, and Dez Bryant's foot fracture rendered him largely ineffective for the remainder of the season. With those injuries, the passing game struggled dramatically. Combine that with the off-field issues that led to Joe Randle's release, and the subsequent scheme change to suit Darren McFadden's running ability, and the run game wasn't as effective as desired either.

Going into 2016, many fans and analysts are looking for the Cowboys to add some more explosiveness to create the big plays that were missing in 2015. As we prepare for the start of the new league year, free agency, and the draft, it is a great time to analyze the projected depth chart and form paths which the team should take to improve itself before the start of the season.

Position Starter Backup Third
QB Tony Romo ??? Kellen Moore
RB ??? Darren McFadden Rod Smith
FB ???
X-WR Dez Bryant Devin Street
Z-WR Terrance Williams Brice Butler
TE Jason Witten ??? Geoff Swaim
LT Tyron Smith Charles Brown
LG La'el Collins Ron Leary*
OC Travis Frederick
RG Zack Martin
RT Doug Free Chaz Green
Slot WR Cole Beasley Lucky Whitehead
COP RB ???

Tony Romo should be back at full strength, although 36-year olds with bad backs have a different definition of full strength than their younger colleagues, despite the organization's arguments to the contrary. This leads to perhaps the biggest set of question marks on the offensive depth chart. The inept quarterback play provided by the likes of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore shone a light on the Cowboys' true dependence on Romo at the quarterback position. Finding a backup who could more capably fill Romo's shoes in case of injury will be an extremely high priority for the team. It is quite possible that, considering the high pick in the draft that the team possesses, they could choose to address the need for a back up while simultaneously looking for a prospect to develop to be the starter once Romo's illustrious career ends.

Second to the quarterback position are the abounding questions at running back. Darren McFadden filled in admirably after the Cowboys released Joseph Randle, and wound up fourth in the NFL in rushing (although many top runners suffered early ends to their seasons). However, enabling McFadden to succeed required a drastic shift in the style of running game from the zone scheme they prefer to a more gap/angle scheme featuring pulling linemen. There are significant long-term organizational implications to making that sort of a shift over multiple seasons, which we may get into at a later date. But those consequences, combined with the fact that McFadden will be 29 by the time the season starts and has a significant history of debilitating soft tissue injuries, will certainly cause the team to look another direction for their lead runner in 2016. Additionally, with Lance Dunbar's pending free agency, there will likely be multiple running backs added to the roster through free agency and the draft.

Other positions, like fullback have marginal players who will be free agents. Tight end faces a depth problem with James Hanna becoming a free agent and Gavin Escobar suffering an Achilles injury at the end of the 2015 season, which leaves 2015 seventh-round pick Geoff Swaim as the only available depth. These positions will likely be addressed through mid to late round picks or mid-level to bargain free agent signings.

It is definitely shaping up to be a busy, and important off-season for the Cowboys' decision makers; stay tuned for a look at the defensive side of the ball.